I should say diligent SPF application is the best thing I've ever done for my skin. Sunscreen is definitely on the list, but it still comes after this, the best thing ever for my complexion, and it comes after what I'm about to tell you. And the best thing about what I'm about to tell you is that they're fantastic for every skin type and for pretty much any age. I'm talking about hydrating serums.
Back in my early 30s when I'd already begun to see the smoothing, clear-skin effects of glycolic acid on my oily, blemish-prone complexion, I added something new to my skincare regimen: a hydrating collection from Vichy. I tried the night cream first, and the very next morning, I noticed something surprising and marvelous in the mirror. My skin looked as though someone had switched on a soft light from inside. Brighter, dewier and more even in colour than the day before, my skin was -- for the first time post-tween -- luminous. It glowed. And it felt... happy.
That, lovelies, is the power of good hydration. Proper hydration reduces blotchy redness and rough patches, plumps up the skin (which lessens the look of fine lines, btw), helps the surface reflect light better, and makes skin feel good. Hello, glow. (Think about Michelle Williams and her dewy, beautifully hydrated skin.)
hey -- you probably have dehydrated skin too
The Vichy products I used back then evolved into Vichy Aqualia Thermal, a line I continue to recommend to makeup clients (as I mentioned in this post) and readers with dehydrated skin. Right now I'm obessessed with hydrating serums. But before I get to those, let's talk "dehydration."
Dehydrated skin lacks water. And frankly, most people's skin is dehydrated, whether genetics, environment or weather is at fault. If your skin is dry, it lacks sufficient lipids (natural oils, fatty acids) and it lacks water. If you have dull-looking skin, it lacks water. If you have oily skin, you have lots of lipids, but you lack water to balance it (in fact, your skin's producing more oil to make up for the lack of water). And if you're using exfoliating ingredients (such as glycolic acid, retinol, anti-acne products), you're dehydrating your skin -- so it needs water. And drinking water can help, but only so much.
effective hydrating ingredients
By "hydrating" ingredients I mean ingredients that hoard water. Our body makes one called hyaluronic acid, a natural sugar molecule with a big claim: one hyaluronic acid molecule holds 1000 times its weight in water. It attracts and binds moisture to the skin. Where does it get moisture? It gets some from the environment, and some from every glass of water you drink.
The most widely used ingredient that builds up our store of the natural molecule is synthetic hyaluronic acid, often listed as sodium hyaluronate on packaging. Other water-hoarding-ingredient words you'll see on labels include polysaccharides, trehalose (a polysaccharide), and glycerin.
serum -- why you should be obsessed too
I've been obsessed with serums since I wrote a what's-a-serum story for Fashion Magazine three years ago. They're the simplest way to kick up and customize your skin care regimen without changing everything. The most concentrated form of skincare in a bottle, serums are simply "active" ingredients in a small-molecule format the skin can easily absorb. They're made without the extras, such as large-molecule ingredients that make up a cream and which form a barrier on the skin.
Apply serum on damp skin (this is how to make it damp) for maximum absorbtion -- skin absorbs water most easily; dampness acts as a carrier that pulls small-molecule ingredients into the top layer of skin as it is absorbed. Follow with face cream or lotion to create a barrier to keep your serum in.
happy skin is hydrated skin
If you've been dealing with dull skin, blotchy red skin and dryness -- or if you've been dealing with excess oiliness -- try any of the hydrating serums you've seen so far in this post. Because nothing is really simple, some of them rely on ingredients other than hyaluronic acid and glycerin and require a bit more delving into details on my part. But I've tried them and love them all. Here's why:
Indeed Labs Hydraluron ($24.99 at Shoppers Drug Mart) is a light hyaluronic-acid gel that feels great when you apply it, absorbs nicely, and makes nice with your wallet. You need just a little dollop, smaller than dime-size. If you use a more generous amount, wait a few minutes before applying your face lotion or cream so it doesn't ball up on your skin.
Neostrata Moisture Infusion 24hr Hydrating Serum ($37.75 at drugstores) hydrates with trehalose, glycerin, and sodium hyaluronate, which together hydrate four times more effectively than hyaluronic acid alone. This formula doses skin with antioxidants, too.
Avène Soothing Hydrating Serum ($43.50 at drugstores; eau-thermal-avene.ca) doesn't rely on hyaluronic acid. Instead, it's 77% thermal water (read about the skin-tastic properties of thermal water here), which is wonderful for very sensitive skin, plus glycerin. Glycerin is a natural humectant that absorbs water and holds it within the skin.
Consonant HydrExtreme (from $72 via consonantbody.com) is an all-natural serum made with glycerin and cassia angustifolia seed extract, a combo which Consonant founder Bill Baker says does the hydration job better than just hyaluronic acid, and for longer. I used it during the winter and geeked out about it here for mistletoe season. I first tried it during the summer; it was a little too much for me in humid weather. If you have dry, sensitive skin, you definitely want to try this.
Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Booster ($81 via salons; dermalogica.ca) is a clear liquid that sinks quickly into skin; you can apply your next product right afterward. One of the first hydrating serums I ever tried, it's still a favourite.
Darphin Hydraskin Intensive Skin Hydrating Serum ($100 via murale.ca) is another nicely effective liquid serum skin absorbs quickly and thoroughly enough that you can layer on your moisturizer immediately following. Feels great on thirsty skin.
Guerlain Super Aqua-Serum ($175 at Guerlain counters) is very pricey. And I love it in the winter. A milky fluid, it gives skin instant glow and leaves it feeling soft and supple. It contains glycerin and sodium hyaluronate as well as fatty acids that help skin hold onto water -- great for dry skin. I'm saving the last bit because I can't bear to be finished the bottle. If you have dry skin and a budget that won't feel bruised by Aqua-Serum's price tag, you must try it.
If your skin's been crying out for water, making a hydrating serum part of your daily regimen will result in noticeable improvement in a matter of days. By the way, lips appreciate a drop of hydrating serum too, before lip balm or colour.
Oddly enough, just as I was working on this post, something new popped up for me to try, with all kinds of interesting details I'll share with you soon. Until then, repeat after me: hydrated skin is happy skin!
Do you think you might give any of these serums a try?